Levi Cayen was a patient at a Yellowknife psychiatric unit two months before he helped to beat and rob Alexander Norwegian, a sentencing hearing has heard.
Norwegian, with a cracked skull, subsequently froze to death outside Hay River on a frigid Boxing Day night in 2017. Cayen, 24, was on Thursday sentenced to 11 years’ imprisonment for his manslaughter.
NWT Supreme Court Justice Shannon Smallwood also sentenced Cayen to seven years, served concurrently, for robbery.
Cayen is the last of four cousins associated with Norwegian’s killing to be sentenced, the others being James Thomas, Sasha Cayen and Tyler Cayen.
Levi Cayen and Thomas had been present as Norwegian was beaten and robbed.
“The level of violence inflicted on Alex Norwegian was extremely gratuitous and not necessary, as he was willing to tell them where his stash was,” said Smallwood on Thursday afternoon.
“The actions of Levi Cayen and James Thomas started violently, with James Thomas immediately trying to smash out the windows out of the vehicle and continuing from there. There were also the elements of confinement [as] Alex Norwegian’s hands were tied with the rope for a period of time during the offence.”
The plan, the judge said, “was one conceived by people under the influence of alcohol and drugs as they sat around drinking, but it was a plan, and one that involves some planning and preparation.”
The Crown had sought a sentence of 15 years for manslaughter and 10 years, to be served concurrently, for robbery. The defence argued for a sentence of two years less a day, which would have meant time served, as Cayen had built up considerable remand time.
His four and a half years spent in custody awaiting trial equates to six and a half years of remand credit, meaning he now has four and a half years left to serve.
As Smallwood asked Cayen to stand, the judge said she took into account the circumstances of the offences and his personal circumstances, including his Indigenous status and the applicable sentencing principles.
Thomas had earlier received a sentence of life imprisonment for murder and 10 years’ imprisonment for robbery.
“James Thomas’s role in this offence [was] the planning and preparation of the robbery. He was the instigator behind the plan. It was his suggestion,” said Smallwood, as members of the Norwegian and Cayen families looked on.
Cayen was 20 years old in December 2017. Though he had been in trouble before, he had a limited criminal record.
“Just as Alexander Norwegian was not in a good place in his life, Levi Cayen was also not in a good place. He had been drinking heavily in the days and weeks before the offences and he had been consuming marijuana,” said the judge.
“He had been in contact with the police [and] had been admitted to the psychiatric ward at Stanton hospital two months prior to his arrest, as he was suicidal.”
Smallwood noted Cayen had been in an unhealthy and volatile relationship.
“This was the place that Levi Cayen was in leading up to the night of December 26, 2017,” said the judge, adding intergenerational trauma was a factor. Cayen’s father was a Sixties Scoop survivor and his maternal grandparents attended residential school.
“Levi Cayen was also coping with childhood trauma, with his mental health being impacted,” said the judge. “He had suicidal feelings and he used alcohol to cope with his trauma and stress.”
Norwegian’s cause of death was hypothermia, with blunt force head injuries a major contributing factor.
Early the next morning, after Norwegian had been beaten, Cayen had wanted to contact the police. He discussed what to say with Thomas and then left on a snowmobile to use a payphone at Hay River’s Rooster convenience store.
“He wanted to get help for Alex Norwegian and he also wanted to avoid detection,” said Smallwood, noting his actions showed some amount of remorse. “The information he provided to the operator was vague … he hung up before providing any further details or answering questions, which might have assisted RCMP in locating Alex Norwegian.”
Asked if he had anything to say, Cayen pulled out a folded piece of paper and asked for forgiveness.
“I apologize to the family of Alex,” he said in a quiet voice, adding “not a day goes by” without him thinking of that night’s events.
“I truly feel awful for what happened.”